Equality with God?
Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) | Fr Nicholas Crowe expounds the doctrine of salvation through the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ.
In our second reading St. Paul, in a few well chosen words, cuts deep into the heart of the Christian vocation and declares: “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God” (Philippians 2: 5 – 6).
It is difficult to convey the nuance and depth of this verse in English. Sometimes this same passage is translated like this: “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped”.
We might even have translated this same verse as something like: “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as robbery”.
According to St. Paul, then, equality with God is no robbery. It is not something that Jesus defensively clung on to, or desperately grasped at. But what does this mean? Some people suggest that this is evidence that when the Son of God took to himself human flesh, he ceased to be divine. That he did not grasp at or cling to his divine nature and instead emptied himself of his divinity. But this is not what Catholics believe. We believe that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, as we say in our Creed. We believe that the Son is God from God, light from light, true God from true God begotten not made. He is fully human, and he is fully God: the second person of the Holy Trinity. We believe that this divine person, the Son of God, created for himself a human body and a human soul and came to dwell amongst us as one of us in order that, as St. Irenaeus puts it, we might become like God. Jesus came to offer us a kind of equality with God: he did not think equality with God was robbery because he came to offer us this grace, he did not think it was something to be clung to defensively because he came to share the life of God with the whole of humanity, he did not think that the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven was something to be grasped at in desperation because he offered it to us as a gift. St. Paul continues:
“[He] emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.”
On the cross, the Son of God – who had assumed our condition as servants in taking on our human nature – offered up His Body and poured out His Blood in loving obedience to the will of His Father. He sacrificed Himself, that His sacred humanity might be the doorway through which you and I and the whole human race enter into the Father’s house and share in the life of God as adopted sons and daughters. Through faith and the Sacraments we participate in, we are given a share in Jesus’ sacred humanity through the action of the Holy Spirit. And through our union with the Son in the Spirit, we share in the Son’s relationship with His Father: Jesus’ relationship with God becomes our relationship with God because we receive His Body and have been washed in His Blood. The Spirit binds us to Jesus such that we become members, limbs, of His Body. And through this union with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, we gain a kind of equality with God: no longer servants but friends, and adopted sons and daughters.
How then do we respond to this gracious invitation to enter into God’s family through our union with Jesus? This is the challenge addressed to us in our Gospel reading. We heard that the owner of a vineyard asked his two sons to go out and labour in that vineyard. This vineyard owner, of course, represents God. The vineyard itself is a classic symbol in the Old Testament for God’s people. The first son initially refuses to heed his father’s request, but then later regrets his rebellion and goes to work. Jesus identifies this Son with those like the Tax collectors and the prostitutes who initially rejected God and his law, but later repent and enter into God’s family through the sacred humanity of Jesus. The second son paid lip service to his father’s wishes and agreed readily to do as he asked, but his outward show of obedience was mere talk and not backed up by his actions. Jesus seems to identify this second son with the pharisees and other allegedly pious people that do not practice what they preach. As a result, the imitators of the second son do not enter into the Kingdom.
Now, of course, of the two sons in the parable we are much better off imitating the first Son. We may have denied God and refused to obey his commands and his plans for our life in the past, but the doorway into his Kingdom and into his house is always open because that doorway is the sacred humanity of Jesus, and he has promised that we will always encounter His love and mercy in Confession and in the Eucharist. If we repent and turn back in love and obedience to Our Father in Heaven then He will welcome us home with great rejoicing. It is much more dangerous to stand in the shoes of the second son, smugly secure in our sense of self-righteousness, oblivious to any sense that our lives are in need of conversion. Nevertheless, neither son in Jesus’ parable is a particularly good model for how we should respond to God’s invitation to work with him and for him for the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven: one son failed in word and the other in deed. Much better to model our behaviour on Jesus himself, to have in us as St. Paul puts it: “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5 – 6).
In Jesus the graciousness of God was made manifest for us. The extraordinary generosity of God is revealed in the Father sending His Son and the Father and Son together breathing out the Spirit to gather us back in after we had lost our way through sin. And if we share in Jesus’ loving relationship with His father in heaven, and in the infinite and eternal exchange of love that is the Holy Trinity, then we are empowered by that love of God to manifest that same graciousness and generosity in our own lives. We are summoned and empowered to live and love as Jesus did: to make known the gracious love of God in our words and in our deeds. The love of God enables us to be like God in the way that we show and share our love. This means that we been made able to respond promptly and generously to Our Heavenly Father’s summons to labour in his vineyard for the building up of the Kingdom of God. And when we respond graciously and generously to God’s call to love, we present to the world the likeness of Christ.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.